How to Learn From the World’s Best Blogger

Smithsonian

I was recently asked for the name the world’s best blogger, which I took to mean, in a roundabout way, my favorite blogger. The questioner was looking to learn from the modern-day masters.

“Easy,” I said. “The most innovative, concise, incisive, well-written and thought-provoking blog couldn’t be found until recently on the World Wide Web. In fact, when it was originally written it had no triple-w address.” (Those were my exact words, for lack of an impromptu editor)

It was the height of innovation for its time, and it took a succession of bold editors in New York City to bring it to life. I stumbled on it in the Jackson Street Bookstore in Omaha – it’s a thing I do when I’m in a city that’s not my own, I look for a used book store and dive-in to get a feel for the locals.

So it was that among the ceiling-high stacks of previously read books in Nebraska I found the writings of the first and most innovative blogger. He’s become my favorite.

E. B. White, he of Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little fame, wrote short essays for The New Yorker between 1927 and 1976 – eons before the internet. A collection of those essays, edited by Rebecca M. Dale, was published by Harper Perennial. They are the mold from which today’s blogs are made, but it took several decades for technology to catch-up with him.

They are at once sparse in length and laden with purpose – not a word dangles in uselessness. They are no more than a page in length and at times as short as a paragraph. White has a way of exalting the mundane, of honoring the ordinary and of finding the humanity in the midst of a bustling city. He was blogging before there were blogs. His entries have a definite structure and rhythm that lead the reader’s curiosity, and he never fails to deliver on poignancy. My Omaha copy is dog-eared and highlighted, underlined and coffee-stained.

It’s been out of print as far as I know for several years, but the good news is that you can still find copies for purchase online, and you can read many of his New Yorker essays at www.newyorker.com/contributors/e-b-white.

Your best bet, though, as I told my original questioner, is to wander through stacks in used bookstores wherever you may be and see if you can find a copy in paperback, the kind you can dog-ear and underline – it’s the best way to learn from the master.

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